The writing’s changed. The imagination’s still on the loose and running wild
March 7, 2013
That may be a good thing.
Then again, maybe not.
The years, for better or worse, have definitely changed my style.
The first paragraph of the first book I ever wrote, The Unending Season, was a travel book about Georgia’s Callaway Gardens.
It read like this:
Callaway Gardens nestles quietly along the gentle foothills of Pine Mountain, sheltered and shadowed by the picturesque peaks of a timbered highland it calls home. It hides in springtime behind a flirting, flaming veil of Azaleas and rhododendrons. Tiny, fragile wildflowers fight their way through the thick, winter carpet of leaf mold to lazily pass the days of summer, nodding and bowing as if in agreement with the whispers of the wind, waiting to fade away with the promised frost that comes to lacquer autumn fire on the leaves of the forest.
Get yourself a paintbrush and paint it purple.
And the first paragraph of my last book, Conspiracy of Lies, read like this:
They had never tasted fear before. But then, most were scholars and had never lived in the real world. For the most part, they had been bunkered down behind the ivy-covered walls of academia, where any traces of reality had been stuffed into blackboard equations or test tubes.
Thirty years ago, I wrote flowers.
Now I spend more time with the weeds.
I call them unnecessary words.
I pull them.
I cull them.
I cut them.
I never dust them off.
The dirt and grit give them a sense of honesty. I want my novels to read as though the narrator burst into the living room and blurted out what he saw and heard exactly the way he saw and heard it.
What I want to do is write prose cut to the bone.
He heard the minister quote the twenty-third Psalm.
Something about the valley of the shadow of death.
It sounded familiar.
Ambrose Lincoln promptly forgot it.
He looked again at the wooden rosewood coffin placed gingerly on the rails of a metal bier. It had been opened. A brusque wind ruffled the dark hair of his wife.
She no longer cared.
It no longer mattered.
He heard a woman softly cry.
She had hugged his neck. She said she was his mother.
My wife is an English teacher. She was horrified.
There wasn’t a transitional phrase to be found anywhere.
It stands to reason that style should change for a writer like me.
After all, the art of writing has changed.
So has reading.
I wrote my first books with ball point pens on yellow legal pads. I had an old Royal manual typewriter, and I could type fairly well. But when I made a mistake, which was often, or when I suddenly realized I had left out a key sentence or paragraph or line of dialogue, there was only one thing I could do.
I had to rip out the typing paper and start over.
I got tired of starting over.
So I wrote the books on legal pads, made notes up and down the margins, re-wrote whole passages and pages on the back side, and finally transferred the manuscript to a typewriter, which required almost as much effort as a chisel and stone.
The electric typewriter made writing a little better, but not much.
The video writer was revolutionary.
And here came the computer.
My life would never be the same again.
To print books, and I spent a lot of late night hours in pressrooms, we used hot type, then cold type, and finally it was all done digitally. I had a printer explain it this way. “When you send me an email version of your book,” he said, “the manuscript leaves your computer as a bunch of ones and zeroes that float out into space, then they all come down and reassemble again on our computers.”
I didn’t have a good night’s sleep for years.
When I began, we talked to each other on party lines.
Then someone invented pay phones.
And now we have cell phones.
We read hardbacks.
Then we breezed through trade paperbacks.
And now we read on screens.
Someone told me years ago that the day would come when people would read their books electronically, that paper books were dying and almost dead.
My question was a simple one. Who in the world will take a computer to bed, set it up on his stomach, and read a book?
Won’t happen, I said.
I had no idea that someone would come along and invent a computer the size of a trade paperback novel.
I had never read an aBook, bBook, cBook, or dBook, and here I was reading eBooks.
I was even writing them.
So, I sometimes think, everything about our business has changed. In the light of day, I have second thoughts. In reality, nothing has really changed at all.
When I wrote on legal pads, it was all about the characters and the story.
On computers, it’s still all about the characters and the story.
There’s nothing electric about your imagination, but imagination can make a good story electric. The stories crawl out of mind like they always did. I just write them differently than I once did.
How has the passage of time affected the way you write?
Or have you and your style changed at all?
You can learn more about many of Caleb Pirtle’s books and novels on his Amazon Author Page.